Speech Preparation before you start

“To be on the winning team, you must also be on the practice team.” – Michael Jordan

It can happen at any moment. You may be asked to give a presentation. Maybe your colleagues simply want you to say a few words at the office party. Perhaps you need to pitch a new idea to a client. Or maybe you’ve been asked to make a speech at a wedding.

At some point, you may have to address a roomful of people.
Public speaking is more feared than is death in our culture. But speaking in public doesn’t have to be so daunting. Like any skill, it gets easier and less foreboding with practice.

There are a few elementary — but important — things you need to address if you want to deliver an effective presentation. Here are some simple insights that will help your next speech go more smoothly, rewarding you as well as your audience.

Maybe you’re nervous about speaking in public. It might interest you that even the most experienced speakers feel anxiety before addressing an audience. Nervousness is simply your body’s way of preparing for a demanding situation.

Your heart starts pumping faster. Your breathing becomes more rapid. But the extra blood and oxygen can help you think faster and speak with more energy. You just need to gain control.

As you’re introduced, take a couple of deep breaths, then exhale slowly. Do that as you’re standing up, and once more before you start to speak.

Act as if you’re not nervous. Be deliberate and confident, no matter how doubtful you feel. Even if you’ve momentarily forgotten your opening, ad-lib something. Your audience won’t notice whether you’ve forgotten anything, and your “butterflies” will dissipate as you get into your talk.

Finally, be natural and conversational. Regard your audience as a gathering of friends, and resist the tendency to be stiff and formal.

Preparation is paramount. It is unnecessary, however, to memorize an entire presentation. In fact, giving a memorized talk can make you seem mechanical. And it may keep you from properly focusing on your audience.

Your talk will have more power, however, if you use a memorized opening and conclusion. You’ll minimize nervousness, because you’ll get right into your presentation. And you’ll be more focused and deliberate.

As for the body of your talk, limit it to only three or four main points. An overly-detailed or digressive presentation may overwhelm your audience, appear unfocused, and run much longer than its allotted time. Print your points on a sheet of paper, or on index cards. You may also simply rely on your overheads or flip-charts; whatever method you choose is fine as long as it keeps your talk organized and flowing.

Rehearse your talk thoroughly. Try speaking in front of a mirror or into a tape recorder. Get feedback from friends or family members. And remember: the best way to improve your public speaking is to speak in public as often as you can.

That’s why a Toastmasters club provides one of the best vehicles for honing your presentation skills. Whether you’re a seasoned member or first-time guest, you’ll have an opportunity to speak at every meeting. You’ll be in a supportive environment, where you’ll learn by both listening and doing.

The thoughts and ideas you express are crucial to the success of your presentation. Equally important, but often overlooked, are your gestures, movements and use of visual aids.

Eye contact is important — it’s how you’ll connect with your audience. And it’s simply a matter of looking at one person for a few seconds, then at another. Each time you focus on someone, you’ll establish a short but important relationship. You’ll communicate sincerity and concern. And your audience members will reflect the impact of your words and gestures, which will allow you to adjust your speech to their needs.

If you don’t have to hold anything, it’s fine to keep your hands at your sides, or in a clasped position below your chest. Be careful not to wring your hands, however, or use them to shake a lectern or podium.

Try to move as you speak. You can do so in the front of the room, or along an aisle. Purposeful movement will keep your audience focused and energized. And it keeps your presentation from becoming the ever-dreaded lecture.

If you use a white board or flip-chart, make sure your letters and illustrations are large enough to be seen from the back of the room. Always stand to the left of the board or chart– even if you’re left-handed. That’s especially important if you write as you speak; people read from left to right, and you want to be out of their way when they do.

When writing or drawing, there are a couple of things you’ll need to avoid. For one thing, never speak when your back is to your audience. For another, keep unused writing utensils out of your hands, so you won’t distractingly twist or manipulate them.

As for props, be sure they’re relevant to your topic, and large enough to be seen by your entire audience. If anything you’ll use is mechanical or electronic, be sure you know how to operate it smoothly. And make sure it’s in working order before you start.